Over the past six months there has been lots of buzz about mobile payments. High-profile companies such as Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Visa have all indicated they are exploring ways to make money from mobile payments. And at last month's Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona, Spain, the momentum around mobile commerce and Near Field Communications seemed to grow even stronger. In fact, several firms including Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), Deutsche Telekom and Orange all talked about how they were incorporating mobile commerce and/or Near Field Communications technology into their future plans. Some companies even went so far as to designate 2011 as the year for NFC payments.
But fine-tuning the business model for this nascent service is challenging. Wireless carriers, platform providers, device makers and financial institutions all want a piece of the revenue pie. It's not surprising, considering that many analysts estimate that the market potential for these services is enormous. According to Portio Research, mobile payments volumes worldwide were $68.7 billion in 2009 and are forecast to reach $633.4 billon by year-end 2014. The biggest potential markets for mobile payments are Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America, Portio says.
But for mobile payments to reach the potential predicted by Portio, a lot of diverse players will have to fit together to make a compelling and lucrative solution. How that will happen is unclear. All we know for sure is that there is a lot of experimentation in the market today.
To help spur the market, the GSMA is heading up a NFC-related initiative with several of the world's biggest operators including America Móvil, Axiata Group Berhad, Bharti, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, KT Corp., MTS, Orange, Qtel Group, SK Telecom, Softbank Mobile, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telekom Austria Group, Telenor and Vodafone. The operators have said they intend to launch commercial NFC services in select markets by 2012.
In the U.S., mobile payments have made headlines lately because of the new initiative Isis, which is a joint venture from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile USA. The carriers plan to leverage Discover Financial Services' network to process payments; Barclaycard U.S. will be the first issuer. Isis has inked deals with merchants but so far has not revealed the names of those merchants or more details about when it will launch.
Meanwhile, Sprint has decided to go it alone with its mobile wallet initiative, called Sprint Mobile Wallet. Unlike the Isis project, Sprint's wallet will let customers make purchases using their existing Visa, MasterCard and Amazon accounts.
Clearly for mobile payments to become a success, merchants, financial services, operators and device makers need to come together to make a viable solution. Perhaps all this experimentation in the market will result in less fragmentation and more cohesiveness. We are exploring those issues and more in "Cashing in on Mobile Commerce," a new eBook from FierceWireless. In this eBook, we take an in-depth look at the overall potential for the mobile commerce market, profile some successful mobile payment implementations and explore some of the latest initiatives in barcodes, mobile coupons and more. --Sue